NBC 6 Investigators

Man Says Lack of Body Cameras Impacted Arrest in Hollywood

Hollywood Police recently got funding to buy cameras for its officers. 

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A surveillance camera captured part of the 2019 arrest of Dwain Watts. The video is grainy and has no sound. But the Air Force veteran says it shows the moment he was injured by Hollywood Police officers.

“After I was on the ground, he deliberately kneed me in the back of my neck with such force that it really did some nerve damage on my neck,” Watts told NBC 6 during an exclusive interview. 

Photos taken at the emergency room moments after he was arrested show bruises and cuts in one of his shoulders. There’s also a small cut in his head. 

None of the officers had body cameras at the time. Watts believes that would’ve made a difference. 

“Because they didn’t have them on, they feel that they could just put up any bogus charge against me,” Watts said.

The police report says someone called 911 reporting a “Black male, bald, wearing a gray shirt and white shorts breaking into cars.” It goes to say the caller “witnessed the arrestee walk up and down the street repeatedly till he entered a red BMW.”

Dwain Watts was arrested after being accused of breaking into his own car. Now he's taking legal action against the Hollywood police department. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports

That red BMW turns out it was his. According to police records, the vehicle was parked in front of the house Watts had just moved from and several blocks away from where police stopped him. 

But Watts was taken into custody and charged with resisting arrest without violence. He says a camera would have shown something different. 

“It would have proved I didn’t resist arrest,” Watts said. 

After spending a month at the Broward County jail, prosecutors dropped the charge. 

Medical records provided by Watts show he was treated at the VA for neck pain, numbness in his fingers, among other things. He also sought help for PTSD following the arrest. 

$1.7 Million Check

In June, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson delivered a $1.7 million check from the federal government to the city of Hollywood to buy body cameras for its officers.

“I saw it as a need and I wasn’t even aware they didn’t have body-worn cameras,” Wilson said.

The department’s leadership welcomed the change. 

“So to have a camera that gives the officers point of view or perspective has certainly been beneficial,” said Hollywood Police’s Assistant Chief Jeff Devlin.  

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, at least 20 law enforcement agencies across South Florida have body cameras, capturing thousands of interactions between officers and the public. 

A 2018 independent study attributed body cameras to a drop in the number of complaints and lawsuits filed against officers in Miami-Dade County. 

“If you know that everybody is watching you, it makes you behave better, the police officer but it also makes the person on the street who is encountering the cop to behave better,” said Dr. Lisa Stolzenberg, an FIU professor who authored the study. 

Taking Legal Action 

Watts has since filed a lawsuit against Hollywood Police, the city and Officer Robert Knapp, who is listed as the arresting officer. 

Joan Brown is Watts’ attorney. 

“When I requested body cameras and they said they didn’t have them I was very surprised,” Brown said. “The body cameras would show Mr. Knapp was the aggressor…and that my client was very compliant in his request and very cooperative.”

A Hollywood Police spokesperson told us they believe “in the value of body cameras” but it’s impossible to speculate if they “would have had an impact” on Watts’ case. She said none of the officers involved in his arrest were disciplined and all but one are still in the force. 

NBC 6 asked for an interview with someone at the department, including officer Knapp. But they declined due to the ongoing lawsuit.   

In a deposition with Watts’ attorney, Knapp acknowledged his knee “was on his (Watts) body” when they were on the ground. When asked where exactly, he said he didn’t recall. He denied he dragged Watts on the ground and said he didn’t learn he was the owner of the BMW until he was transporting him to the hospital after he complained about his injuries. 

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